To political junkies and inveterate Nixon-haters, the continuing release of the 37th president's papers and recordings have long been known as "the gift that just keeps giving." With every batch that has been periodically made public, the political and foreign policy views as well as the personalities of Richard Milhous Nixon and his closest aides have become clearer.
Today's release from the National Archives and the Nixon Library is no exception.
Nixon's war with the Washington Post was well-known. His attorney general, John Mitchell, once warned that the Post's publisher, Katharine Graham, was "gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer…" Today's newly released material recounts a meeting Jan. 12, 1973, between Nixon aide Charles Colson and Bob Ellsworth, an investment banker for the Post. The banker is concerned about the Post's financial situation. Ellsworth also worries that the administration is bent on hurting the Post and other enterprises owned by the Post Company.
In a memo to Nixon describing the conversation, Colson says, "I told Bob that the Post had brought this on itself, that they had completely broken it off with us. He said that was not the case, that Kay Graham was being very cooperative, understood the problem, and that they felt that [Post executive editor] Ben Bradlee was perhaps responsible for the unfair coverage of the administration... He said 'you would be surprised' to find out how cooperative and agreeable she really can be."
Colson later tells Nixon, "I suggested that perhaps we might see some evidences of good faith. Maybe the Post could show us something like a few obviously friendly editorials on how well the president is handling the Vietnam War, perhaps a firing of Bradlee, and some straight coverage for a change, maybe they could start putting the Watergate case back inside the paper where it belongs instead of blasting it across the front pages."
Colson says, "Clearly the Post is very, very worried." But, as it turned out, not worried enough to cave in to White House pressure. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein continued to file their Watergate stories, and Ben Bradlee continued as executive editor of the Post until his retirement in 1991.
Nixon's dislike of the news media was not, of course, just limited to the Washington Post. In a detailed, 30-page memo on politics and the media to his chief of staff, H. R. "Bob" Haldeman, Nixon complains (and this was November 1970, long before Watergate) that the media are hostile to him, and he advocates finding a plan to divide "the hostile working press."
Although, as a rule, Nixon hated leaks, he thought they could be used to his benefit. He suggests giving "calculated leaks to our friendly reporters, and don't limit them to newspapers -- sometimes we might give one to ABC network, for example."
He also worries that the public believes he may be loafing when he goes on vacations or weekend trips to Florida. He blames this and other public relations problems largely on "the virtually insurmountable problems we face with the media."